6 years, 10 months ago

Architecture Views & Layers of Abstraction and Details: How much is too much?

by Francis Uy, TOGAF 9, PMP

As an Enterprise architect, I find myself doing presentations to various levels of the company I am working with.  These presentations aim to recommend actions in order to support the company’s goals.  
My job is to make sure that decision makers are empowered with the right information to make the best choice at any given time. The most effective way for this information to elicit a speedy but quality-based decision is to recommend with the perspective of the person making the decision.  
In the book “3 Laws of Performance” by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan they state that how people perform correlates to how the situation occurs to them.  This is very true also in how people make choices.  If you can understand how a particular situation occurs to your stakeholder and present information from that point of view, you are likely to get a better response from them.
For example, let’s say I am talking to a project management office (PMO) head.  It will be an easy conversation if I fully understand what his needs and concerns are. From a PMO’s point of view – his metrics are successful delivery of all the projects in his scope.  His concerns are that he has just in time visibility of project issues and risks so that he can support his project managers as soon as possible.  He would also want a tracking of the benefits each of the projects are promising and a visibility on when these will be met.
At his level, the layer of abstraction he needs will be primarily focused on the project views, the program views, or even perhaps the portfolio views. He would not need to see further details as what a project manager would see such as the work breakdown structure — unless one item there is now causing the delay of the benefit being delivered by a project.
Example below shows 2 levels of abstraction for the same set of projects.  The image on the left is a set of projects with their detailed steps.  The image on the right focuses on a summary of the total project health (status, costs, resources, etc)

On the other end of the spectrum, talking to a chief executive officer (CEO) of the company and understanding his concerns vis-a-vis the projects of the company will also ensure being able to successfully support him.  While, similar to the PMO, he does care about the benefits of all the projects in the company, he realistically only has bandwidth for the top 10-30% of them.  Hence ensuring that a filter is provided focusing on that will support his decision making.  Unlike the PMO though, his concerns are looking broader across the whole organization and even extends outside – specially if the company is listed on the stock market.  A key concern for the CEO is change management.  And inside change management a question of – will the projects or initiatives drive the right behavior we need in order to be a more competitive company. He will need views that show a holistic landscape of how all the projects are impacting various parts of his company.  Are we doing too many changes in one particular capability thereby decreasing the returns potential of a particular project?  Are we doing enough on the other important parts of the business?

Clearly, showing the CEO views beyond the whole company perspective — things like detailed design strategies or software details that software engineers and process owners use is definitely too much details.
The example below shows a view that the CEO would care about.  It is the business capability model for his company which shows the key capabilities (parents of business processes) needed to ensure business operations excellence.  Comparing this to the earlier views, a useful perspective is to see how many projects are in flight to improve the cost, risks, or business value of below capabilities. (see numbers overlaid on the capability)


To be an effective architect, you need to know the key concerns of various levels and functions of the organization.  Presenting your data from their perspective will allow for an easier connection, collaboration, and decision making.
My challenge:  Next time you need to present or influence a key stakeholder stop first and think from their perspective and understand how is the issue or the situation occurring to them.

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